On Choosing Leaders

[by Reagan Bradshaw]

This is the time of year when candidates declare for the national board election, and soon many chapters will be electing new leadership as well. We are prone to think of leaders as remote — high profile photographers often with national reputations for their creative work. In reality, the best industry leaders are more often the more typical photographer — mature, intelligent, responsible, often modest individuals who realize that effective leadership is simply taking responsibility for making a difference to whatever extent and at whatever level their abilities and circumstances allow. They realize that organizations don’t get things done through self-aggrandizing, self-appointed spokesmen but that it takes committed individuals acting in concert with integrity and mutual respect to accomplish something for themselves. We each have influence over others, whether we acknowledge it or not. A leader is one who chooses to use that influence consciously, and a good leader exercises that influence on behalf of those over whom he or she has influence.

Leaders are not heroes in the classical tradition who accomplished great deeds alone and unassisted. Heroes are not leaders. We become leaders when we consciously decide to create change through the help of others to accomplish something we cannot do alone. Leaders, by definition, work with others.

Leaders are people who endeavor to accomplish something beyond just their own personal success, individuals who wish to make the world a better place for others as well as for themselves. Leaders strive for significance, not just success.

Many leaders are in positions of authority, but many others are not. Many in positions of authority are not true leaders. A good leader cultivates relationships, persuades others, strives to bring differing interests into congruence, is assertive, develops confidence, optimism, tenacity, and enthusiasm. A leader exerts influence without authority.

Few are born leaders. Leadership is something we learn by doing. What do you care deeply about? What would you like to change or improve? Whatever it is, you can do something about it at some level. You can define your own cause. Enlist others. Make your own agenda. Use your personal influence and develop your personal skills to make a change.

One person can make a difference, if he or she chooses to develop and use his or her influence.

Leadership is an art and a skill, and it can be learned. A good leader is a model for others. He has integrity and personifies his own high values. She is ethical. He has conviction and persistence. She persuades and motivates others to do what she — and they — want to accomplish.

Vision in Leadership

A good leader does not poll for majority opinion and then advocate that position, does not just represent the views of a constituency, but rather defines the views of that constituency. He charts a course for the future and enlists others in that plan. The power of leaders derives from the consensus they create for their vision and from the validity of their definition of the future. A leader creates his or her own constituency. An ethical leader acknowledges and honors the trust of that constituency.

Good leadership is stewardship. It is the protection and nurturing of precious common assets and the creation of greater assets. Leaders bequeath a legacy for the future.

The Navajo have a word which defines a philosophy of life. The word means to be at one with your environment and to create beauty in the world all around you. To create beauty in the world around you — that is true leadership.

Leadership in ASMP

An ethical leader is one who strives to establish in the real world the vision he has defined for his constituency. ASMP needs ethical leadership to create a better world for photographers, the kind of persevering leadership that crafts a compelling vision for the future and creates consensus in that vision. If you care about your profession, then make yourself an influence on the industry. The best possibility of influencing our industry today is through ASMP, at the local as well as the national level. Help develop a common vision of the future of photography by working in ASMP.

I heard of a well-known national advertising and editorial photographer who commented recently to his assistant “There are only about five good years left in this business.” This was dismaying to the young assistant who hopes to make his own career in this field. This successful photographer could be spending some of his energy in the betterment of the business rather than just taking what he can get while his business is good. By doing so he would be improving his own future business environment as well as helping those who follow him. A good future in this business will require the conscious commitment to leadership of many photographers in ASMP as well as allied industry groups, photographers who care enough to make some personal sacrifice to create an environment in which they and their profession can flourish.

We need leaders who are advocates, not critics. It is easy to be against something, to criticize the efforts of others. It takes much more courage to be for something, to create something for the future. That requires intelligence, integrity, creativity, time, and hard work.

If you care, take it upon yourself to make a difference. Volunteer your time and intelligence at whatever level of our organization your knowledge, skills and personal influence can make a difference. Don’t just give your spare time. Make time, and make it a high priority. Make ASMP — your most effective advocate — an ongoing and integral part of your business and your career.

You will derive personal satisfaction. You will experience personal growth. You will expand your knowledge. You will create a valuable personal network. You will return something to the industry which gives you your livelihood. You will have a say in how the business operates. And you will help to create a community of professionals who are mutually supportive. You will make a difference both to yourself and to others, and you will leave behind something of significance in a world a little better for your having been here.

We are counting on you.